After spending nearly eight years behind bars on second-degree murder charges, a 39-year-old Albany, Minn., man could soon be released with the remainder of his 20-year sentence annulled.
A jury in 2016 found Robert J. Kaiser guilty of two counts of second-degree murder for fatally shaking his infant son in August 2014 while the boy's mother was away for the day. At the four-week trial, 40 witnesses testified, including pediatric specialists who stated the traumatic brain injury was the cause of 2-month-old William's death.
But a Stearns County judge vacated the conviction in late April after hearing evidence that the more plausible cause of death was cerebral venous thrombosis, which occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain.
"Robert's conviction was tainted by false medical testimony," said a motion filed by Kaiser's attorney, James Mayer of the Great North Innocence Project, on Kaiser's release.
On Monday, Stearns County Judge Laura Moehrle heard arguments on whether Kaiser should be released without bail; Moehrle took the matter under advisement and a decision is expected in the coming days.
Kaiser and the infant's mother brought their son to the hospital on Aug. 27, 2014, with breathing difficulties and seizures, court documents state. Kaiser told investigators the boy fell and hurt his head. William died one week later.
The criminal complaint against Kaiser said the medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be traumatic brain injury and the manner of death homicide; the document said the autopsy revealed previous injuries including bruising and healing rib fractures.
Kaiser was charged with second-degree murder in September 2014, and later with first-degree murder after a grand jury indictment, though the jury found Kaiser not guilty of the first-degree count. After the jury trial in October 2016, Kaiser was sentenced to 240 months in prison with credit for time served — and was expected to serve about 11 years total in prison with the remainder of the balance on supervised release.
Kaiser petitioned the court for post-conviction relief and the court held a two-week evidentiary hearing last October, where a forensic pathologist, neuroradiologist and ophthalmologist testified in support of the petition.
"The thrust of this new medical testimony was that the imaging and other medical records did not support the state's allegation of abusive head trauma," Mayer said in a court document.
Mayer said Monday the nonprofit is thrilled with the court's decision to set aside the conviction but declined to comment further because the case is still pending while the prosecution determines what it will do next.
In documents submitted to the court, Mayer argued if the jury had heard what was presented to the court in October, there would be a reasonable probability of acquittal.
"Kaiser was convicted of second-degree murder based on the propositions that a person can violently shake a 2-month-old infant to the point of causing severe internal head injury with retinal bleeding — without causing any external injuries such as fractures, bruising, or neck trauma — and that abuse was the only plausible explanation for his son William's clinical presentation on Aug. 27, 2014," Mayer said. "Both propositions are wrong."
In rebuttal documents, the state argued the "new medical hypothesis" is invalid because even though scans documented evidence of CVT, it was secondary to the abusive trauma the infant suffered.
A document submitted by Assistant Stearns County Attorney Joshua Kannegieter said, "The new medical team argues that their new interpretation is new evidence. Rather it is the same evidence in a different wrapper."
Before Kaiser's conviction was vacated, his release date was December 2027.